Starbucks, British English, & tofu noodles

Starbucks Holiday Specials

I went to Starbucks today, the one next to the market, to buy some coffee grounds. I was delighted to see the Christmas-themed decor and delighted the line extended only one-third of the way to the door (often it extends from door to counter). I grabbed a bag of Christmas Blend (’tis the season, right?) and Sumatra (my favorite Starbucks standard). (I’ll take this moment to add that Thanksgiving Blend isn’t available in the UK (sad face).) Since I had my Starbucks card, I thought I’d enjoy a free tall beverage while reading for a bit.

Gazing up at their holiday specials, I was surprised not to see peppermint mocha being advertised. Instead, there were two drinks listed I’d never seen before–praline mocha and toffee nut latte. (The gingerbread latte and eggnog latte were also advertised.) I asked what’s in a praline mocha, but when I heard “hazelnut” I knew it wasn’t for me. Hazelnut coffee has got to be my least favorite kind of coffee–of course, I’ll unhesitatingly take it over no coffee. I asked if they served peppermint mochas, was told yes, and ordered one. I waited for my drink. Eventually a barista announced my drink: “Praline mocha!” She immediately realized her error and threw it away to start making my peppermint mocha. She quickly returned telling me they’d run out of peppermint. Well! I decided to have a gingerbread latte instead, no cream, please. Next thing I know she’s handing me a drink with so much whipped cream that it’s spilling over the edge. Oh, well. I take it and go read.

Modern British English

My blog posts have often been a mishmash of Modern English and Modern (and perhaps sometimes less modern) British usage. I mostly do this, adding British-isms, for fun. Here, however, I’ll provide some official information about a few common differences between American English (AmE) and British English (BrE).

Whilst: I was surprised the first time I saw “whilst” in an official email from Cambridge–what century is this? Though “whilst” is common here, you Yanks better not start using it in the Colonies. Allow me to quote my grammar expert Bryan A. Garner:

whilst, though correct BrE, is virtually obsolete in AmE and reeks of pretension in the work of a modern American writer. . . . Like its sibling while, it may be used for although or whereas. But again, this isn’t good usage in AmE. (Garner’s Modern American Usage, 2009, p. 860)

Further: Often I hear “further” used in Cambridge in ways that are, hm, wrong in the US. Let’s look to Garner again, whose book is aimed at American writers.

farther; further. Both are comparative degrees of far, but they have undergone differentiation. In the best usage, farther refers to physical distances, further to figurative distances. . . . In BrE, further is typically both physical and figurative, whereas farther is physical only. (p.346)

For those of you actually interested in grammar:

The superlatives–farthest and furthest–follow the same patterns. Furthermost is a fairly rare equivalent of farthest (not furthest). (p.346)

Which: Z has noticed an inordinate amount of “whiches” here. “Which” and “that” are commonly misused in the US, too, so let’s look at which–I mean that:

which. A. Generally. This word, used immoderately, is possibly responsible for more bad sentences than any other in the language. . . . For a full explanation of which vs. that, see that (A). Suffice it to say here that if you see a which with neither a preposition nor a comma, dash, or parenthesis before it, it should be a that. (p.858)

that. A. And which. You’ll encounter two schools of thought on this point. First are those who don’t care about any distinction between these words, who think that which is more formal than that, and who point to many historical examples of copious whiches. They say that modern usage is a muddle. Second are those who insist that both words have useful functions that ought to be separated, and who observe the distinction rigorously in their own writing. They view departures from this distinction as “mistakes.”

Before reading any further, you ought to know something more about these two groups: those in the first probably don’t write very well; those in the second just might.

So assuming you want to know the stylistic distinction, what’s the rule? The simplest statement of it is this: if you see a which without a comma (or preposition) before it, nine times out of ten it needs to be a that. The one other time, it needs a comma. Your choice, then, is between a comma-which and that. Use that whenever you can.

Consider the following sentence: “All the cars that were purchased before 2008 need to have their airbags replaced.” It illustrates a restrictive clause. Such a clause gives essential information about the preceding noun (here, cars) so as to distinguish it from similar items with which it might be confused (here, cars that were purchased from 2008 on). In effect, the clause restricts the field of reference to just this one particular case or class of cases–hence the term restrictive. Restrictive clauses take no commas (since commas would present the added information as an aside).

Now let’s punctuate our sample sentence differently and change the relative pronoun from that to which: “All the cars, which were purchased before 2008, need to have their airbags replaced.” This version illustrates a nonrestrictive clause. Such a clause typically gives supplemental, nonessential information. Presumably, we already know from the context which cars we’re talking about. The sentence informs us that the cars need their airbags replaced–oh, and by the way, they were all bought before 2008. The incidental detail is introduced by which and set off by commas to signal its relative unimportance.

A restrictive clause is essential to the grammatical and logical completeness of a sentence. A nonrestrictive clause, by contrast, is so loosely connected with the essential meaning of the sentence that it could be omitted without changing the meaning.

Hence, three guidelines. First, if you cannot omit the clause without changing the basic meaning, the clause is restrictive; use that without a comma. Second, if you can omit the clause without changing the basic meaning, the clause is nonrestrictive; use a comma plus which. Third, if you ever find yourself using a which that doesn’t follow a comma (or a preposition), it probably needs to be a that.

.     .     .

British writers have utterly bollixed the distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive relative pronouns. Most commonly which encroaches on that‘s territory; but sometimes too a nonrestrictive which remains unpunctuated. (pp.806-7)

I hope that has answered any of your questions concerning “which” and “that.” For more of Garner’s Modern American Usage you may purchase it from Amazon (currently on sale).

Smoked tofu “cabonara”

This was really easy to make and really delicious, though it’s not for the faint of heart! It has raw eggs in it. I found this recipe (scroll down a little) on Stone Soup. It definitely took longer than the ten minutes Jules says it will–probably took us 30 minutes or so. We missed our Modern Family viewing because of it. Dinner was worth it, though. I absolutely loved eating this.

This entry was posted in Coffee, Grammar/Usage, Main dishes, Oddities. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Starbucks, British English, & tofu noodles

  1. Heather says:

    I never knew that “whilst” was so frowned upon here! I use it because I think it sounds whimsical, though in conversation, not schoolwork. I knew about that and which, but I still haven’t memorized the correct usage, so now I just have a nagging feeling every time I write one of them.

    • K Arterburn says:

      I have that nagging feeling all the time. Whilst writing this post I probably asked Z six grammar questions even though Garner sat open before me.

      • K Arterburn says:

        I did learn correct ellipses usage during this post.

        • Heather says:

          David is a far better grammarian than I, which is a little weird (I think I did it correctly this time…?). I should start consulting Garner instead of David because invariably I read several pages and learn several things.

  2. Austin says:

    My dad lost another bet and has to now eat TWO vegetarian meals so I’m gonna make this pasta so he has to try tofu. Did you dry the tofu like normal? Or just cut it up and fry with patting(word?) out a little bit of the water?

    • K Arterburn says:

      Still dry it. It always fries/bakes better when you dry it, and the longer the better.

      • Austin says:

        Alright!!! I’ll keep you updated on what the old man thinks.. He’s in for a new experience!

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